Notes on the Problem of Change in the Classroom

I delivered these notes at a seminar at Trent University two years ago.

The question posed to us concerns the possibility of drawing lines of connection from our own research toward other points within the academic world. There is the point in space occupied by my research and there is another point in space occupied by the current state of the academic world; and so, two unities in space. The exercise consists of merely drawing the straight line and producing the map. The academic order, or public, is structured by the measure of relationship between our own research and other bodies of research within the market place of ideas. If the measure of identity between these two points is strong then there is a strong and coherent image, and that is good for the repetition of the order. If the measure between these two points is weak then the research is, to some extent, absent from the world. The paradox is that if the measure of identity between these two points turns out to be a measure of difference, as it is in the latter case, then the opportunity exists for the research to harbor the possibility for an encounter with singular change.

I believe that part of the problem is that our commitment today is necessitated in loco parentis. In other words, we have before us the complicated problem of the relationship between desire and knowledge. On this topic, Renata Salecl has written the following: “In the discourse of the university […] the teacher is bound to the knowledge [that exists] outside of himself; the teacher is in the role of an intermediary who transfers this outer order to the pupils through his teaching […] The teacher’s speech is obligatory for the pupils insofar as it is bound to the teacher’s position as an authority mediating knowledge.” As student researchers, we are initially on the outside of this topology of the academic order, and we find that our teachers are somewhere in between the order and our own research. And so there is a relationship of transference between all of us as colleagues and this relationship hinders our ability to make a singular change in our own research.

My supposition is that all of this occurs as a consequence of the emergence of the sujet suppose savoir; a supposed subject of knowledge in and around us in the classroom. The problem of the supposed subject of knowledge is that it is a subject constructed by students and projected onto their teachers and colleagues as inter-mediators of knowledge; but it is also a subject that is embraced and assumed by our teachers and colleagues. For example, as students, we seek validation for our research from our teachers, and our teachers seek to be validated by the advice that they give to their students. But it is possible that the validation that we receive traps all of us into believing that the results of our research are singular when they are really quite regular for the academic order. If we allow ourselves to be duped by the sujet suppose savoir then we by necessity do not allow ourselves the possibility to produce a singular change within – and through the transmission of – our research. In fact, the imperative of university discourse is to reduce this knowledge into the regular change of the academic world through the function of rationalization and legitimation that are granted to us by the market place of ideas or by the telos of academic life. With a little bit of help from the sujet suppose savoir, university discourse compels students to reduce any possibility for singular change into the mere possibility of regular change.

There are looming questions at hand. Within a program which is itself a novelty within the academic world, amidst the anxiety of its future, is there not an imperative to rationalize and legitimize its own position in relation to the market place of ideas within the order of the academic world? Perhaps what students are here experiencing is the translocation of university discourse – there may be something like a passing of responsibility from the program onto the student. It is not the program which must prove itself as a player in the overall market place of ideas, it is the student who must prove himself on behalf of the program. In other words, the student must do the program’s work. The student must rationalize and legitimize his research to the benefit of the program inasmuch as the program itself remains singular within the order of the academic world. The image of the good research project – mapped as it is by the line connecting it to the regular change of the academic order – demands that the student know his research without thinking or understanding his research. The student works to keep up appearances rather than to disrupt the appearances. Under such conditions, the student’s only recourse is to have the revolutionary content of his research domesticated or gentrified by the savage desires of the academic order in which the student is localized.

Inasmuch as the research project does not stand on its own, does not restrict itself to an evaluation of its own intrinsic worth, or does not stand as a means to its own ends, then the knowledge of this project stands as the justification of the scholars very existence vis-a-vis the market. The student’s only recourse for justifying his research project is to appeal to its contribution to a field of knowledge. The image we are invited to draw for ourselves is an image of exploitation in its most basic sense. The burden is on the student to not only prove himself and his research worthy within the market place of ideas, but it is also to prove himself capable of reproducing the discourse through which his exploitation has been made manifest. And to reproduce this exploitation, it is first necessary to produce an image or a blueprint. The aspiring professional must clearly draw the lines of connection within the academic world and demonstrate that these are strong rather than weak connections, that the image is coherent rather than fuzzy. The student must demonstrate, through an evaluation of the measure of his research, that he himself is capable of transmitting regular change within the context of a professional career.

My belief is that this is precisely the ideological super-structure of the neo-liberal university. Against this trend, we have the opportunity to defend and to be proud of our colleagues’ research. We do not have to flee from the anxiety of a program that struggles to legitimize itself, nor do we need to fall back onto banal forms of legitimacy within the order of the academic market place. We ought to defend the absolute autonomy and singularity of our colleagues’ work. We have the opportunity to transform the sujet suppose savoir of the university into an analytical subject. It is only with a basic protection for the autonomy of our research that singular change can not only remain a possibility – but it can also remain transmittable within the academic order, if only for the shortest period of time.

There are possibilities to produce new orders within the academic world. We can produce new publications, and fundamentally new research projects. With that possibility comes the anxiety of producing meaningless or non-productive research. What we have here – no matter how weak the lines or how fuzzy the image of the research project – is an opportunity to defend the notion of pantry. With the notion of pantry, we ought not begin with the expectation that a use for the research might arise. That is, the anxiety of pantry is precisely the anxiety of not having any guarantees. And so it is a risk, and with this risk there are real anxieties.

I know this in my personal experience. I’ve already published … And yet all of these publications were on topics traditionally excluded from, and resistant to, university discourse. I have consistently refused to map my research in relation to the world around me. Instead, I have participated in the production of new orders within the academic world. My claim is perhaps even a bit naïve: if we do good research, and if we have colleagues with whom we can regularly discuss the nuances of our research, and if we can make our research compelling by demonstrating conviction – it will be published and it will find its audience. Singular change is not a marketing exercise, it is an exercise in conviction and truth. And so to be a good student requires that we focus on our work, and on our conviction, and less on the images and blueprints that reduce our work to another product within the market place of ideas.

Let us suppose that our education here today is not strictly teleological. Perhaps we came to the university to finance, protect, and encourage research of singular quality. In this case, the university offers a haven of sorts, and we should thus hope to widen the freedoms offered to us by this haven. The university is also a place wherein we build character, virtues, precisely through our research practices, and then we are released into other worlds to make changes in those worlds. However, perhaps there really is a goal to obtain a position within the academic world or to get published; I am not convinced that this goal should come before the consequences of good research. To confuse the order of these operations is to encourage the sort of superficiality that is a standard for the neo-liberal order surrounding and penetrating into our haven.

I do not know where I position my current research in relation to all of this. I have never known. Moreover, I do not believe that there is a sujet suppose savoir capable of knowing on my behalf. Rather, I remain committed to the possibility for truth, for singular change, and insofar as I remain committed to these projects I also, as a consequence, remain committed to my research first and foremost and not to the superficial measurements of the academic order.

Against the New Communists: I maintain that singular change is fundamentally different than the regular change of the vanguard party. The subject of singular change can be an individual person in a battle against himself, it can be a student in an argument with his teacher, an analysand with his analyst, or a social movement in a battle with the state. The subject has various scales, and so does the change. Against the position of Traditional Anarchists, I maintain that there is an outside to power, that the state is not the center of power, and that power does not operate uni-directionally to repress an otherwise creative human nature. This is the political conception of the line which constitutes the image and it can only operate within the image of regular change, via the naïve blueprint of revolution (i.e., if we remove the state then the naturally benign human nature will be free to flourish and create). Against the post-anarchists and the psychoanalysts, I maintain that the outside to power is an ontological outside. It is a rupture in a world but from the provocation of objects and things. The outside is not reducible to the residue of the real within the symbolic. In other words, I offer an ontological point of departure rather than an epistemological point of departure. I maintain the primacy of the inanimate thing rather than the recuperable object of desire. I maintain that there are two orders of the real and that we must shift our focus to the first order of the real and dislodge the subject from its place of privilege. Finally, against the readings of Einstein within humanities scholarship, I maintain that the theories of relativity are not theories of epistemological relativism or subjectivism. They are theories of truth.

All of that constitutes my field, and I proudly call my field Cultural Studies [note: I no longer proudly call my field Cultural Studies]. It also has many sub-fields: continental philosophy, post-continental philosophy, Lacanian psychoanalysis, political philosophy, the philosophy of physics and science, anarchist studies, and meta-ethics. It also opens up the possibility to be its own area of specialization. It is not uncommon. In the 2000s, I helped to pioneer an entirely new area of specialization within the academy called post-anarchism. I did this by publishing some books, establishing some research networks, writing some articles, and beginning the world’s first post-anarchist scholarly journal. If I would have begun by calling my area of specialization Lacanian studies, anarchist studies, social movement studies, or anything similar, I would not have been able to envision the singularity of my work. If I would have begun by mapping my research rather than understanding my research, I would not have been able to envision the singularity of my work. My journal, my books, my articles would have never made an impact on the academic world. Finally, I have contributed to the establishment of a new order of academic publishing – para-academic publishing. We have a large network of publishers involved, many journals and book publishers, and we encourage and promote real innovations in research.

All of this leads me to my claim: against the drawing of maps, I advocate the discovery of ever new territories. I advocate the possibility for the establishment of new publics, new orders, within and against the academic order. And I advocate that this is the first step for the possibility of an encounter with singular change in our own research and within the academic world in which we find ourselves. This first step begins with the quiet space of thinking and not with the public presentation and mapping of research. If we confuse the order of operations then we are destined to map territories that have already been discovered.

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